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He may make Giant difference

Lincecum's team is in fourth place, but he could get involved in the NL West race between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks.

September 11, 2008|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO -- In his long-sleeved undershirt, wearing no cap, his hair so unruly it looked as if he combed it with a fan, Tim Lincecum could have been mistaken for the clubhouse attendant who cleans the players' spikes with a wire brush.

But appearances are deceiving, and so is Lincecum, the boyish-faced 23-year-old right-handed pitcher who is listed at 5 feet 11 and 170 pounds but doesn't seem near that. And in what is nothing more than a wasted season for his San Francisco Giants, Lincecum's numbers that are most real are a 16-3 record, a National League-leading 2.54 earned-run average and major league-leading 225 strikeouts.

"Complete domination," Giants shortstop Omar Vizquel said. "Amazing."

From the visiting team's dugout before a game against the Giants this week, Arizona Diamondbacks Manager Bob Melvin said he had seen enough of Lincecum to know one thing. Any discussion about the Cy Young Award needs to include Lincecum.

Even with the Giants in fourth place in the NL West?

"If a guy on a so-called lesser club can put up those numbers, maybe that's more impressive," said Melvin, whose own pitcher, Brandon Webb, is also regarded as a primary candidate, along with CC Sabathia of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Melvin's perspective is worth noting, because he's getting a heavy dose of Lincecum as the season winds down, and the schedule starts getting quirky.

The Diamondbacks, who were steamrollered by Lincecum in a Giants' victory Monday night, are going to face him again next week in Phoenix in the last game of a four-game series.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers have six games left with the Giants and are staring at the very real possibility they won't face Lincecum at all.

Now, is that fair? Melvin smiled thinly.

"It's just the rub of the green," he said. "That's just the way it works out."

Then again, maybe it won't work out that way at all.

Giants Manager Bruce Bochy, who has said that Lincecum has only three starts left this season, may alter his plan and pitch Lincecum a fourth time, in the final game of the season -- against the Dodgers.

Because of an off day Sept. 22, Bochy would have to skip a starter in the rotation and use Lincecum in his normal four-day pattern of rest.

"Sure, it's a possibility," Bochy said. "We'll see where we are at then, how he's feeling, if he's laboring. It depends on what's best for Tim.

"The kid is special. Not that we're anywhere, but wherever we are, we wouldn't be there without him."

And if reaching 20 victories is on the line in the last game of the year, if the Cy Young and ERA titles are still up for grabs, that would seem to be good for Lincecum, Bochy admitted.

"We would love for that to happen, those would be great honors," Bochy said. "But we're not going to risk anything with him."

Lincecum, who threw 127 pitches against the Diamondbacks (bringing his league-leading total to 3,227) and is third in the league in innings pitched with 198 2/3 , insisted he isn't distracted by the chance for a Cy Young or 20 victories.

"I'm not really thinking about all that," he said. "It's in the back of my mind. I just want to pitch well and help our team win.

"[People] have expectations for you, you have expectations for yourself. I'm not worried about anything except making good pitches. You just try to keep that mentality."

Lincecum's value to the beleaguered Giants is impossible to overstate. He is 13-2 when pitching after Giants' losses. The last pitcher to win 14 times after his team had lost the previous game was David Wells for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2000. The last Giants pitcher to win 14 in the same circumstances was Juan Marichal in 1963.

Lincecum spoke with Marichal during a Saturday ceremony unveiling a statue of Orlando Cepeda outside AT&T Park, and the conversation was about pitching form.

"If the level of my arm is even with my shoulders, I'll be fine," Lincecum said.

The last Giants pitchers to win 20 games were John Burkett, who won 22, and Billy Swift, who won 21, in 1993. The last one before 1993 was Mike Krukow, who won 20 in 1986.

Krukow, a broadcaster for the Giants, said he hasn't noticed any change in Lincecum's straight overhand delivery to indicate a tired arm. Catcher Bengie Molina said for Lincecum to get to 20 wins, and against the Dodgers, is a nice goal.

"That's a lot of motivation right there," he said.

Besides, there may be some history at stake, Krukow said. To win his 20th game, Krukow beat the Dodgers, 11-2, on the last day of the 1986 season, his start moved up for him to pitch on three days' rest. If that sounds like a scenario vaguely similar to Lincecum's, it should, Krukow said.

"I can't think of anything better than that," he said, "chance for 20 wins, the Cy Young, beating the Dodgers. Bring it on."

--

thomas.bonk@latimes.com

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